By: Courtney Marshall, Lynx Global Intelligence
In December, news spread quickly that President Trump’s transition team had requested information from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development regarding “existing programs and activities to promote gender equality, such as ending gender-based violence, promoting women’s participation in economic and political spheres, entrepreneurship, etc.” This inquiry was one of numerous requests sent to federal departments as part of the transition process, but feelings of uncertainty and concern for the survival of gender-related programs began to spread. Many questioned the new administration’s intentions behind these requests. Advocates in support of these programs are asking questions: Will Trump support the Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women? Will he support the reauthorization of VAWA? Will he address the importance of these issues as president? Rather than debate the what ifs, a more productive line of questioning involves asking why these initiatives matter in the first place. Here’s why:
When it comes to national security policy, gender matters. The New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank headquartered in D.C., points to multiple studies that find a strong link between rates of gender-based violence and the likelihood of interstate conflict. Young women are more likely to participate in violent movements in societies where their roles are severely restricted. Alternatively, peace negotiations are strengthened when women are at the table. Granting women equal rights to actively participate and contribute to society has not only been shown to create more stable societies, but it has also led to greater economic growth.
A political community centered around greater inclusiveness is strongly linked to higher standards of living and more stable political and economic societies. In most of today’s developing countries, women make up at least half of the economy. For example, women over the age of 15 in South Africa make up 50.29% of the labor force. Discrimination against women’s involvement in the workforce in places such as South Africa prevents the productive use of human capital, in effect undermining the potential of at least 50% of its economy. Women who are provided with equal opportunities enhance the prosperity potential of the whole economy. Governments should create economic growth agendas that rely on the talent in their countries, to include women.
Despite the ambiguity surrounding the Trump administration regarding gender-related programs, devaluing these initiatives has clear political and economic ramifications. In the past, the presidency has represented American values and respect for human-kind. The level of influence Mr. Trump has over behavior and perception of self-worth should not be underestimated. Alliance for HOPE International’s President, Casey Gwinn put it best:
“We must be people who model respect, tolerance, and kindness. Anger, rage, and bitterness are not legacies we want to embrace. Let’s be gracious to those we don’t agree with, let’s listen more than we talk, and let’s keep advocating for the rights of the under-served, the marginalized, and the victimized.”
His words may do little to soothe the anxiety in Washington, but are words Mr. Trump should hear.